Raven 147: The Acorn

How could you say there was anything that couldn't be expressed in words? As soon of you'd said what it was, you've expressed it. Even to say, "It's ineffable" is to eff it.

You might say, "But some things are not completely expressed." True enough, but adding "completely" reverses the situation. Changing the question from "Is there anything that can't be expressed in words?" to "Is there anything that can't be completely expressed in words?" changes the answer from "nothing" to "everything." Everything can be expressed, and nothing can be completely expressed.

So the living question for us is: given the infinite expressibility of every object, phenomena, or experience, when do we say, "that's enough" -- and when do we heap our plates with detailed expression?

John Keats spoke of "negative capability" -- which he said meant being "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." Or, we might say: "content with a vague, imprecise allusion without any irritable reaching after more concrete or detailed expression."

To go further, let us recognize that it's misleading to say that every expression is incomplete, which suggests that expressions are partial -- as if, by accumulating more and more expression, one could asymptotically approach completeness. It's not that expressions inherently reveal only a part of the reality. It's that expressions always and inherently hide as much as they reveal. Indeed, they conceal exactly as much as they reveal. Necessarily. Such recognition strengthens our negative capability.

Woodpecker asked, "Is there anything that can't be expressed in words?"
Raven said, "Nothing."
Woodpecker asked, "Even the ineffable experience of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree?"
Raven said, "The morning star."
Porcupine said, "There's a kernel in that acorn."
Woodpecker asked, "How can I get at it?"
Porcupine said, "Come on, Woodpecker! What's that chisel beak for?"

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